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"Identical" sheets are very different: Coke around the world

October 24, 2014

I was chatting with one of my suppliers recently when he mentioned their sheets were being produced in different factories. In fact, they were coming from two different countries!

Both sheets use identical packaging; have the same name and product descriptions; both came in identical colors -- only the country of origin is different.

This raised red flags all over our FEEL laboratory. I immediately called the fabric engineer for these best-selling sheets.

“Yes, the specifications for these sheets are identical.” What he said exactly was, “we use the same specifications for:

    • the threadcount;
    • the weave;
    • the cotton;
    • the yarns
    • the finishes.”

So why did I receive test samples of so-called identical sheets yet one felt completely different from the other?


How can two sheets with identical specifications feel differently to the touch?

It happens all the time!  Any product that undergoes multiple steps of processing will be different when it is produced in different locations. Some examples you might recognize:

  • Chocolate: people swear Swiss chocolate tastes differently than chocolate made in the USA under the identical brand.
  • Hamburgers: order a Big Mac anywhere overseas and compare it to the American version when you get back home.
  • Coke and Pepsi: these taste differently in different countries.

The further away the locations, the bigger the differences. This is despite the manufacturers’ best intentions to provide consistency in their products.



Ahh! : makers of sheets use specifications that can never be identical!

  • Cotton fibers 
    • Think of wine: both cotton and wine are natural products that grow differently due to local weather and soil conditions. Cotton from one country is denser than another. A denser cotton weighs more and so the sheet will weigh more.
    • Cotton comes in 500-lb bales containing billions of raw cotton fibers.  Each fiber is measureable with lengths ranging from 13/16 to 1½ inches.  It’s impossible to measure each fiber in the bale so averages are used - but averages permit variations! These two bales are defined as identical:
        • 65% of 1 inch fibers and 35% of 1¼ inch
        • 70% of 1 inch fibers and 30% of 1¼ inch
        • The bale with more long fibers makes smoother sheets.
    • Immature cotton fibers lack strength and thickness so those sheets can tear and pill. What a total lack of maturity!  Heartier, mature cotton fibers can withstand further processing and treatments for extra smooth, no-iron, cool or other characteristics. They also dye easier and are more durable.
  • Machinery – consider these basic steps to make a sheet - there are a lot more:
    • clean the cotton fiber
    • comb it
    • spin it into yarn
    • clean the yarn and soften it with mechanical or chemical treatments
    • weave yarn into fabric.  Note: new equipment weaves smoother than old!
    • bleach and dye it
    • textile ennobling: mechanical and chemical treatments to smooth and soften it
    • clean it
  • Differences in the water and humidity affect the treatments used during production.

Small variations at every stage add up, affecting how a sheet feels to the touch!



Why change where sheets are produced? Common reasons:

  • Factory A is delayed or is fully booked and cannot accept a reorder. Meanwhile, factory B can deliver on time.
  • Global politics - India is safe today while Pakistan isn't. Same for China, Bahrain or everywhere else on the globe sheets are produced.
  • To save a few cents here, or a few dimes there. Fluctuating currency exchange rates can often be the sole reason!


Who knew? Sheet specifications are not all that counts!

There are millions of fibers in a single yarn and tens of thousands of yarns in a single sheet. It’s just plain impossible for two factories to use exactly identical cotton fibers.

The only sure way to evaluate how a fabric feels to the touch is to test it scientifically.  We evaluate sheets down to the fiber level.  Our FEEL laboratories test hundreds of sheets to guarantee they will feel perfect, just for you.  We test so you can rest (more >>).


[A note to Perfectlinens shoppers: we avoid suppliers who are known to change manufacturers. Our supplier agreements require we are told of any such changes. In the event a supplier changes manufacturers, we submit random samples from the new production to our FEEL laboratories for re-evaluation and analysis.]


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